Cosmology (D&D)

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Unofficial rules compendium

This is the result of a discussion between Håkan and me (Starfox) on cosmology, originally on a blog. Since that blog has been abandoned for quite some time, I decided to move the discussion here and make it into an article.

The Astral Planes

The astral planes includes the astral plane itself, various domains and dreamworlds within the astral plane, and the outer planes.

The astral planes are made up of forms and ideas, not matter. It is impossible to bring matter into these realms. However, once you pass the astral and get into the outer planes, the difference is not readily apparent; the traveler will be surrounded by virtual/conceptual objects that seem to confirm to his expectations of everyday objects - except when they do not. There are regions of the outer planes that do not confirm to any earthly perceptions, but these places are generally impossible to visit or comprehend.

Astral Travel

There are two basic ways of travel to the astral realms; plane shift and astral projection.

Plane Shift - Calling

Plane shift involves the transubstantiation of the traveler's body into pure spirit, leaving no body behind. Effectively, the traveler's body is disintegrated and the spirit is sent to another plane, where it forms a new body. This is dangerous, as any harm to the traveler is true an irrevocable. This is also what happens when you pass through an astral gate. This is similar to what happens to an outsider who is called. It is "really present" in the physical world. Calling and Plane shiftis generally permanent.

Astral Projection - Summoning

Astral projection is the other manner, where the traveler leaves his body behind as insurance. Harm to the spirit is not permanent, and only returns the traveler to his physical body. However, note that you can only astrally project from earth, parallel worlds and border regions - there is not enough of a spirit to project from the ethereal and no body to leave behind on the astral. Nor can you astrally project into the ether - there is not enough spiritual energy to sustain your spirit form. Summoning is the outsider analogue to astral projection - in this case, the outsider disappears from its home plane, but the plane itself acts as a repository of the creature's essence. What is summoned is the spirit, who upon manifesting in the physical world manifests a new body.

Outer Planes

The astral plane's more distant reaches is known as the Outer Planes. These are arranged according to alignment, spanned by two axles.

  • Good - Evil Axle
  • Lawful - Chaotic Axle

There are no correspondences between points on the great wheel and on earth. But there are correspondences between alignment on Earth and places on the great wheel. For example, someone who is Neutral Good correspond to a place in the Outer Realm plane of Elysium, while someone who is Chaotic Evil correspond to a location in the Abyss. These correspondences ultimately decide where a departed soul ends up in the afterlife. Since alignment is very much in flux in living beings, such correspondences are fleeting at best, and point to regions or realms rather than to specific places.

Ethereal Plane

The ethereal plane - and by extension the inner planes - are characterized by matter over form. Things found here are somewhat rough and unfinished. Creatures found here are lacking in spirit, and seems somewhat 2-dimensional in character. Such creatures often want to get intimate with earthlings because earthlings seem radiant and spiritual to them, much like earthlings react to outsiders.

The deeper you travel, the more matter dominates. In the very innermost planes, travel becomes impossible or meaningless because there is only inert matter present.

Travelers from Earth should not stay too long, lest they lose their spirit themselves. However, stays can be months long with no problem.

The ethereal realm easily accommodates physical forms, and is the medium used for teleporting etc.

Consequences: As opposed to the normal D&D cosmology, teleportation moves you through the ethereal, not the astral.

Ethereal Space in Three Dimensions

The Inner Planes - Outer Ethereal can be pictured like this in three dimensions.

  • Positive - Negative Axis
  • Fire - Water Axis
  • Earth - Air Axis

Ethereal realms distant from Earth are generally termed Inner Realms, to distinguish them from the astral Outer Realms.

Depending on the influence of each of these forces, each point in material space is "closest" to a certain point in the Inner Realms. Thus, there is a connection between an earthly volcano and a point in ethereal space that is quite high on the fire and earth axis of the ethereal plane.

Consequences: Travel between two points in ethereal space and two points in material space need not show any similarities at all. On the ethereal, all volcanoes are reasonably close together, even if they are continents apart on earth.

Ethereal Space in N Dimensions

Another view of the inner planes refutes the simple opposites inherent in the three-dimensional view. Instead, each of a multitude of elements each have their own pole or node where it is dominant, and its influence radiates from there. Thus, there are poles for the regular elements (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Positive, Negative), but also for other elements that in the 3D view are seen as composites of the above. This can include Metal, Wood (or bamboo), Clay, Void, Light, etc.


Faerie can be seen as an ethereal/elemental region where the elements are more or less in balance.

However, faerie has some additional complications, such as variable time dilation and that the seasons in faerie are actual geographical locations, not periods of time.

Images of the Astral-Ethereal Relationship

These examples serve to illustrate how the astral and ethereal planes interact.

Astral - Etheral Axis in 1 Dimension

With this view, astral and thereal space form a continuum, with pure idea in one end (astral) and pure materia in the other (ethereal). In the middle, where these two forces interact, they create the material world.

Consequences: Travel from the ethereal directly to the astral is very hard; any continous mode of travel from one end to the other must pass the material world. Very strong magics might bypass this (D&D Gate).

Alienists in 1 Dimensional Astral-Ethereal space

It is possible for different axles between Astral and Ethereal to exist.

One such alternate axle is the alienist one. It crisscrosses ours near material space; the two worlds can interact in this part. It varies wildly in the far astral axis and the outer planes, while it is basically the same as ours in the base elemental regions. Some outer planes, such as Limbo, might exist in both cosmi. The other outher planes of the alienist cosmology would be even more utterly incomprehensible to us than Limbo is.

Astral - Ethereal Axis in 2 Dimensions

In this image, we see the astral and ethereal planes as two-dimensional planes. Each can be moved in separately. These two planes meet and interact in one line, which is the material world.

Consequences: Each place in the material world has a corresponding place in both the astral and ethereal worlds. The reverse is not true; there are places in astral and ethereal space that do not correspond to any point in physical space.

Parallel Worlds

Parallel worlds have astral-ethereal axles that lie in perfect parallel. At no point would two such worlds interact. They share the same astral and ethereal space, but use different areas. In general, the outer and inner planar regions of parallel worlds do not interface either.

Because the alienist axis is not parallel, it can intersect several parallel worlds. One means of travel between parallel worls is via the alienist universe - a truly maddening, incomprehensible, and uncontrollable event.

It might be possible to travel between parallel worlds using the outer planes, but this would require major effort and a very long time.

Posted by Starfox Musings at 15:07

Hack said...

Parallel worlds in this sense would mean that the entirety of the outer planes would be a non-identical duplicate. Even the powers of the outer planes could be different, e.g. an evil Thor etc.

Parallel Earths on the other hand may differ only in the history having taken a different turn, and maybe turned slightly more lawful. These could be reached by traveling through the astral plane, since they differ conceptually.

Then there are other planets, which are separated from earth by physical space. The ethereal plane would be the way to reach these.

Starfox said...

Not so much as a non-identical duplicate as similar and coexisting regions. Mortals often exist in alternate-alignment versions on such worlds. Gods are more complex. If Thor appears evil on one world, that is generally a different view on the same being. Gods often transcend worlds and manifest wherever they have followers. It is debatable if these are separate avatars with separate memories and potentially different personalities - gods rarely speak of such matters.

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